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Wheeler says Laine's will to play more is 'a great trait to have.'

Jets captain describes Laine's comments as a 'non-issue.'

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

WINNIPEG - One doesn't get to the National Hockey League without pushing for more.

That's why Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler has no issue with reported comments from Patrik Laine - who is training in Switzerland while his contract continues to be negotiated.

"Regardless of if it's Patty or anyone else, that's the nature of sports. You always want more ice time. You always want the opportunity to play with different players or play on the power play," said Wheeler. "We're pretty spoiled in this league. For the most part, guys have been the best players on their teams growing up. They're used to playing those types of roles and those types of situations. 

"When you come up doing that, you always have that expectation. More than anything you try to empower everyone and get the best of their abilities and just realize that everyone on a hockey team - maybe more so than any other sport - has a role, has a buy in. You're going to need that if you're going to take those steps to be a complete team."

Video: TRAINING CAMP | Blake Wheeler

The conversation around who plays on that left wing with Wheeler and Mark Scheifele isn't a new one for Jets head coach Paul Maurice. He's had a number of players in that spot, including Laine, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, and at times, Andrew Copp.

"I've had a version of that conversation, truly, with almost every other forward in our group…. It's understandable and everybody wants it," Maurice said. "They want to play more minutes and they want to play with the team's best."

The 21-year-old Finnish sniper has lit the lamp 110 times in his first three seasons in the NHL, making him one of Winnipeg's most lethal offensive weapons. His 184 points since he came into the league in 2016-17 are the third most on the team behind only Wheeler and Mark Scheifele.

"He's certainly one of our best players. He spends a good deal of time on that top unit on the power play. We've been top five in the league the last couple of years and a big part of it is what Patty does," Wheeler said of Laine, who led the Jets in power play goals last season with 15.

"It's a great trait to have to want more, to want more ice time, more playing time. I would say those are all good things. You want guys that are hungry for more and not content with where he's at."

Where Laine is at, Wheeler estimates, is in "limbo." Laine's representatives and Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff are still working on getting the restricted free agent's name on a contract.

The Jets captain hasn't spoken with Laine on the phone in the last couple weeks, but the two have exchanged messages on Snapchat very recently.

"He's just in a spot right now where he's caught in limbo and wants more than anything to get here and play and be an NHL player again," said Wheeler, who had Laine on the wing for stretches of last season at even strength.

"He was competing hard. Whether we're at home or on the road, the match-up our line gets requires that. He was given that opportunity and he was certainly giving it his all."

Maurice said Laine earned that opportunity - which came on Feb. 22, 2019 against the Vegas Golden Knights - because of the way Laine had developed his entire game.

"Running the right routes, finishing checks, understanding with Mark's group a lot of times they do play against the other team's best. I saw some growth there," Maurice said. "Some growth and development that will have to continue and we expect it to continue."

Video: TRAINING CAMP | Adam Lowry

Adam Lowry also had Laine on his wing last season, including when the team was in Finland for the NHL Global Series against the Florida Panthers in November of 2018.

"We'll welcome him back with open arms. We're excited to get him and (Kyle Connor) back. Hopefully it's sooner rather than later," Lowry said.

"I think the closer it gets to the regular season, you're going to see more movement. It's in the best interest of the player and the team to be playing. Each situation is independent but they're all kind of connected…. All these deals are going to get done in time. I don't think it's going to necessarily put a run on them that one started to get signed. Hopefully the two guys on our team get done soon."

LOWRY SPEAKS REGARDING NHLPA AND NHL NEGOTIATIONS

On Monday, Sept. 16, the National Hockey League Players Association declined their option to re-open the collective bargaining agreement.

This came shortly after the NHL did the same thing (their deadline was Sept. 1) and as a result, the current CBA will continue until the end of the 2021-22 season.

Had either side elected to reopen, the current agreement would have expired on Sept. 15, 2020.

Lowry is the player rep for the Jets and has been since his second year in the NHL.

"I find this stuff interesting. It's good to learn about the league and your union and be able to be informed and make sure the other guys are informed. I enjoy doing this kind of stuff," said Lowry. "You start running through the numbers and you get informed on a lot of things. There are a lot more things that go into it than you'd be aware of if you're not in the room or if you hadn't gone through one of these things before. It was definitely a learning experience."

He describes the relationship between the NHL and NHLPA as "good" at this point and anticipates the negotiations will continue in the coming weeks - as opposed to waiting until the 2021-22 season.

"We're continuing to talk to the league and hopefully those productive talks continue. I don't think there is a timeline to possibly have anything extended. We're still open to extending the CBA and stuff like that," Lowry said. "We had some good discussions on Friday and Sunday about the paths we could take. We figured this was the best one right now. There are still some issues in the CBA the players aren't happy with, but we've had some good talks with the league. They're going to continue to negotiate and hopefully we can find a resolution to some of these issues."

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